Last Sunday, April 23, 2017, the City of Antwerp organized its annual Marathon for the 28th time. With approximately 2,400 participants, it is the largest Marathon in Belgium. This year, the race was won by David Cherop from Uganda in 2:17:12 and the Belgian Mieke Dupont won the women’s race in 2:54:16. I myself took part in the Antwerp Marathon for the second time this year, although I have to admit that, with a time of 3:58:50, I did not compete for any of the marbles. I did however enjoy the great running conditions (thirteen degrees celsius and cloudy), the seamless organization, and general positive atmosphere.
For runners out there who are looking for a new challenge, let me provide ten good reasons to mark the next edition of the Antwerp Marathon in your agenda (April 22nd, 2018):
- It’s easy to get in! Getting into some of the most popular Marathons in the world such as Boston, New York, Berlin, or London is often quite complicated. Because of the large number of potential participants, you either have to qualify by running below a certain time, or have to enter a lottery system. This is not the case in Antwerp. With some 2,400 participants, it is the largest marathon in Belgium, but still anybody who wants to participate can generally do so. The smaller number of participants and lower threshold to take part however does not come at the cost either. The quality of the organization is excellent: the luggage transport, pacers, security, frequent provisions, etc were all conducted in a very professional fashion.
- It’s Cheap! Registering for some the major marathons can be very expensive. It for example costs over 180 Dollars to sign up for the Boston and New York marathons, and in some cases, it is significantly more expensive for international participants than for locals. Registering for the Antwerp Marathon on the other hand will only set you back 55 Euros. Of course, there is always the extra cost for a commemorative t-shirt or a personalized medal.
- Gloat While Watching Others Run the 10 Miles! The Antwerp Marathon’s starting shot is given at 9:00am, which means that most runners are expected to arrive between noon and 2:00pm. This will allow participants ample time to look for a nice terrace in the city center from which they can view the Antwerp 10 Miles. This event, in which some 30,000 runners invade the city center, traditionally only starts at 2:30pm. From your comfortable chair, you can watch these people suffer while reminding yourself, and of course the people around you, that your ran more than double that distance only moments ago.
- It’s Flat! Some marathons are known for their challenging topography such as Rome’s hills or New York’s bridges. The Antwerp Marathon on the other hand only has one major slope: the exit of the Waasland tunnel that goes underneath the River Scheldt. This tunnel poses a significant hurdle for runners of the Ten Miles later in the day, as they have to face the long 3.7 percent incline right before the finish. This is not the case for the marathon runners. They have to run up the hill in the opposite direction between kilometers three and four when they are still fresh. The rest of the race is almost completely flat.
- Compete against the Mayor of Antwerp!
Bart De Wever (N-VA), the somewhat controversial Antwerp Mayor, is a newly converted runner. Half a decade ago, he was fat and out of shape, but he decided to drastically turn his life around and started eating healthy and exercising. In no time, he had shed the extra weight and became an avid runner. This year he took part in the marathon for the first time and finished in a very respectable 4:13:25. Whether or not you like Bart De Wever as a politician or a person, I am sure many people compared their times to his.
- A Great excuse to visit Flanders’ largest city! People who visit Belgium usually first go to Brussels and then make their way to Bruges. Antwerp usually only comes in a third or fourth place. Most tourists I have spoken to have however always been very enthusiastic after having visited Antwerp. It has beautiful museums, great shopping, and fantastic restaurants and bars. It is also a great city to visit on foot, especially for trained marathon runners. All main tourist destinations such as Rubens’s house, the Cathedral of Our Lady, and the Red Star Line Museum, are fairly close to each other. If you come to Antwerp by train, you will likely also arrive in one of the most beautiful train stations in the world and can visit one of the oldest zoos in the world right next to it. Even Belgians who are not from Antwerp have confidentially indicated that they really like the city, but for their own safety, they have asked me not to disclose their names. (For non-Belgians, people from outside of Antwerp generally consider the city’s inhabitants to be arrogant. Admitting that you like the city is therefore somewhat blasphemous.)
- Finish Your Marathon on Antwerp’s historic “Grote Markt”!
Although most people are cursing their way through the last five kilometers, the beautiful scenery of the last two kilometers can provide some distraction. Participants run past the Bonaparte docks with its historic ships, beautiful yachts, refurbished harbor buildings, and one of the latest additions to the Antwerp skyline: the imposing “Museum aan de Stroom (MAS)“, a museum dedicated to the history of Antwerp and its harbor. Then the runners take a left onto the bank of the River Scheldt for about a kilometer, past the “Steen” castle, and then take another left towards the main city square, the “Grote Markt”. There they are greeted by a sea of people standing in front of the sixteenth and seventeenth century buildings for which Antwerp is known, including its Renaissance City Hall and the iconic Cathedral of Our Lady. Runners kan then quickly (or not so quickly) collect their bags and enjoy one or more of the many restaurants or bars in the historic center.
- See the outskirts of Antwerp! Most people who visit Antwerp, or any other city for that matter, only visit the city center and the main tourist attractions. They rarely get the opportunity to see where people actually live. The Antwerp Marathon indeed passes through the historical center and touristy areas, but also guides runners through districts such as Hoboken, Wilrijk, Berchem, Borgerhout, and Deurne, that each have their own unique identity. Runners also get to see interesting, but not very touristy locations such as the “Rivierenhof ” and “Park Spoor Noord” parks, which are well-known among locals, but unfamiliar to foreigners.
- You will always find someone to cheer you on! One of the things marathon runners are often confronted with is having to run large stretches alone with no other runners around or anyone nearby to cheer them on. This is absolutely not the case in Antwerp. As the marathon almost exclusively passes through urban areas, there are always people in the street cheering you on at every stage of the race. People will take the time to read your name off your starting number, will hold up self-made signs, and children will stick out their hands for a high five from whomever is willing to give them. Often the different neighborhoods even organize their own entertainment. Deurne for example had a full marching band with baton twirlers, the city of Antwerp had hired a DJ, and Berchem even had a Zumba class performing at the side of the road. All of these events provide a brief but very welcome distraction for the runners.
- A great excuse to enjoy Belgian beer and Chocolate! After completing the marathon, my GPS watch calculated that I burned approximately 4,400 calories. This is approximately twice the recommended daily caloric intake. Running a marathon thus provides the perfect excuse to indulge in some of the finer things that Belgium has to offer such as great food, beer, and chocolate after the race. I myself enjoyed a local De Koninck beer (also known as “een bolleke) and a Crepe from Normandy filled with cheese, ham, and sausage, followed by a few more “sins” that I would usually try to avoid.
I hope to see as many of you on April 22nd next year, if not for the Marathon, then for the Antwerp 10 Miles.